Chuka Umunna joins Lib Dems
Former Labour MP Chuka Umunna has joined the Liberal Democrats after his departure from the newly formed Change UK.
Umunna, the MP for Streatham, said that he was “wrong to think that millions of politically homeless people wanted a new party” and had “massively underestimated” the difficulties of setting up a “fully pledged new party without an existing infrastructure”.
Umunna’s move now sees the Liberal Democrats’ number of MPs increase to 12.
Change UK, founded in February, has seen six of its 11 MPs depart in one week after it gained a mere 3.4 per cent of the vote in the European Parliament elections.
On Thursday, the party had to apply to the Electoral Commission for a third name change since its inception amid the threat of a legal dispute with petitions website change.org.
The party will now seek to operate under the name "The Independent Group for Change" with former Conservative MP Anna Soubry named as leader after Heidi Allen also left.
The Liberal Democrats enjoyed a comparatively successful European elections campaign having championed their cause as a pro-remain party.
This tempted Umunna to switch allegiances, saying that “there isn’t room for more than one centre ground option in British politics”.
Umunna has previously been critical of the Lib Dems for “enabling Tory austerity” during the term of the coalition government from 2010 to 2015, but conceded in an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that matters “have changed”.
Speaking of the Lib Dems’ anti-austerity stance, Umunna said: “you cannot do it [end austerity] if you are going to sponsor Brexit in the way that the two main parties are doing”.
He also expressed his believe that a “good handful” of Conservative and Labour MPs may yet defect and join the Liberal Democrats given the current state of their respective parties.
The recruitment of Umunna will be seen as a real coup for Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable, who said: “Chuka and I have worked together effectively for many months, campaigning for a People’s Vote and to stop Brexit”.
“I know that he will be a great asset to our party not just on Brexit, but in fighting for liberal and social democratic values”.
Ed Davey, one of the candidates to replace Sir Vince Cable as party leader, also heaped praise on Umunna, complementing his “huge courage” in turning his back on his party once again to join the Lib Dems.